Family Arthroleptidae

Leptopelis mossambicus Poynton, 1985

Brown-backed Tree Frog, Mozambique Tree Frog, Bruinrug-boompadda (A)

By J. Theron and L.R. Minter

Currently accepted name: Leptopelis mossambicus
Red listing status: Least Concern

Photo by Boyce J.K.; Jake Mulvaney, 2012. URL: FrogMAP: 613


L. mossambicus is distributed from southern Malawi through southeastern Zimbabwe to central and southern Mozambique (Poynton and Broadley 1987; Lambiris 1989a). In the atlas region, it occurs in the low-lying eastern parts of Limpopo Province, eastern Mpumalanga, Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal. The southernmost record collected during the atlas survey at Everton (2930DD), and the historical record from Wentworth, Durban (2931CC), are disjunct from the main distribution further to the north. This break in distribution may reflect inadequate sampling.

The colour, markings and call of L. mossambicus are distinctive, and it cannot be mistaken for any other frog species in the atlas region. The atlas data are reliable and reasonably complete.


In the atlas region, this species inhabits a variety of bushveld vegetation types in the Savanna Biome, as well as Sand Forest and mangrove swamps. It seems to prefer moist, wooded, low-lying areas where it lays its eggs under leaf litter next to shallow pans, pools and streams. It has been recorded from relatively high altitudes in southern Malawi to sea level along the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

Life history

L. mossambicus retreats underground during the day and during the dry winter months. Wager (1965) noted that captive individuals spent the dry season (5–6 months) buried in the soil at a depth of 25 cm below the surface.

Breeding begins after the first heavy summer rains in November, and continues through January. Males call from elevated positions on grass, reeds, sedges, shrubs and trees, usually no more than 1.5 m above the ground. These call sites are normally near open water, but may be several hundred metres distant. The males are territorial and produce aggressive calls when other males are in close proximity. If the intruder does not move away, protracted fighting may occur (Passmore and Carruthers 1995).

The eggs are laid in a shallow burrow under leaf litter near the water’s edge (L.R.M. pers. obs.). The tadpoles complete part of their development in the nest, and may remain in a state of arrested development for several weeks until the next heavy downpour. When the egg capsules are moistened by rain, the tadpoles immediately break out and wriggle en masse to the water, where they complete their development (L.R.M. pers. obs.).

In captivity, L. mossambicus eat beetles, termites, moths and their larvae, and a record exists of a captive individual eating a baby chameleon (Wager 1986).


Within its distribution range, L. mossambicus is fairly widespread and is known to occur in numerous public and private protected areas. Populations appear to be stable. There are no known threats to this species at present. The continued protection of the habitat of this species in protected areas should be sufficient to ensure its long-term survival.

Current distribution map

Undated records;  pre-1996;  1996 to 2002;  2003 to present


  • Web:
    FrogMAP. 2023. Leptopelis mossambicus Poynton, 1985. Animal Demography Unit. Accessed from; on 2023-12-01 08:12:44.
  • Book:
    Minter L.R., Burger M., Harrison J.A., Braack H.H., Bishop P.J. & Kloepfer D. (eds). 2004. Atlas and Red Data book of the frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. SI/MAB Series no. 9. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Published by the Smithsonian Institution and the Avian Demography Unit (now Animal Demography Unit).